China's Harbin Aircraft Industry has begun test flying an upgraded variant of its Z-9 licence-built helicopter aimed at civil operators.

The H425 features more powerful engines, more modern avionics and a wider cabin than the H410A, an earlier civil variant of the Z-9 that made its debut in September 2001. The Z-9 is an indigenous version of the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin, but a Eurocopter official says Harbin developed the H425 on its own.

A China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) source says the H425 will be sold to operators in China and other developing countries where the Dauphin does not have a strong presence. "We want to avoid conflict with the Eurocopter Dauphin because we are co-operative partners."

The new H425 is equipped with a Collins glass cockpit and is powered by French-built Turbomeca Arriel 2C engines. By upgrading the engines and introducing a new design for the rotor blade tip, Harbin has increased the maximum payload from 4,000kg (8,800lb) on the Z-9/H410A to 4,250kg on the H425. The fuselage has been extended by 200mm (8in) and can accommodate nine or 10 seats.

Harbin aims to certify the H425 by the end of this year and will continue to sell the H410A. China began selling civil variants of the Z-9 and Z-11 in 2001, but sales prospects have been limited. CATIC believes sales prospects will improve with the H425.

The introduction of the H425 is part of a broad attempt by Harbin and CATIC parent China Aviation Industry Corporation II (AVIC II) to boost civil helicopter sales within China and abroad. AVIC II's Changhe Aircraft Industries has begun designing an upgraded civil variant of the 2,000kg Z-11 and is courting potential Western partners for this project. Changhe is also considering developing a new civil variant of the 13,000kg Z-8.

The Z-11 resembles the Eurocopter AS350 Ecureil and the Z-8 is similar to the Aerospatiale SA321 Super Frelon, but AVIC II is open to partnering with other companies. AVIC II, for example, will begin building Bell 430 cabins this year and is considering setting up an assembly line for the 430, although it is the same size as the H425.

Source: Flight International